Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

26 Senators Call for Increasing Nuclear Security Funding

| Aug. 19, 2014

Yesterday, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released a letter signed by 26 senators asking the Obama Administration to increase funding for nonproliferation and nuclear security programs. In the letter, which was sent last week to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, the bipartisan group of senators raised concern regarding cuts to nuclear security programs over the past several years and requested that the Obama administration “seek increased funding for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs” in its upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request, expected to be released early in 2015.

The senators argued that “unsecured nuclear material poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security” and “Reducing budgets for agencies and programs that help keep nuclear and radiological materials out of the hands of terrorists is out of sync with the high priority that President has rightly placed on nuclear and radiological material security and signals a major retreat in the effort to lock down these materials at an accelerated rate.”

The letter’s 26 signatories included nine (of 17) members of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee and two members of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Force Subcommittee, both of which have jurisdiction over the budgets for U.S. nuclear security programs. Both of those committees recommended increasing funding for nonproliferation programs above the Obama administration’s request. The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended increasing nonproliferation funding to about $1.8 billion, which was nearly $300 million above what was requested. The Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Committee recommended increasing nonproliferation to about $2 billion, which was more than $423 million above what was requested.

The letter is consistent with recommendations made in Cutting Too Deep: The Obama Administration’s Proposals for Nuclear Security Spending Reductions, a report Managing the Atom released last month.The report identifies that the Obama administration boosted nuclear security spending in FY 2011, but has been cutting these budgets ever since.” In its FY 2015 budget request, the Obama administration has proposed cutting nonproliferation programs by nearly $400 million (20%) and nuclear security programs by $145 million (21%) relative to FY 2014 funding levels. As we describe in the report, these reductions would slow progress in ensuring that the essential ingredients of nuclear bombs do not fall into terrorist hands.

We offer several recommendations to help reverse the trend of declining nuclear security budgets:

1. The U.S. government should not allow nuclear security progress to be slowed by lack of funds. Given the immense consequences of a nuclear terrorist attack and the modest costs of nuclear security, the basic U.S. policy should be that no effort that shows promise of being able to make a significant and lasting reduction in the risk of nuclear terrorism should be delayed for lack of money.

2. As a first step, Congress should restore at least $100 million of the cuts to nuclear security programs proposed in the FY 2015 budget request. Avoiding deferrals and delays in nuclear security programs would require reducing the scope of the proposed cut by at least $100 million, roughly evenly distributed between International Material Protection and Cooperation and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

3. Congress should also approve targeted increases in other nonproliferation programs. Even a cursory examination of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) nonproliferation budget suggests that larger budgets would offer opportunities for faster progress toward key objectives, such as strengthening efforts to control dangerous technology exports and interdict illicit technology transfers around the world or developing enhanced technologies for nuclear verification

4. Congress should require the President to submit a strategic, prioritized plan for achieving effective and sustainable security for all nuclear weapons and weapons usable material worldwide as rapidly as practicable–and to submit budget requests sufficient to implement the plan. A strategic plan, prioritized on the basis of the risks to U.S. security and the opportunities for reducing them, is needed to provide a structure, metrics, and organizing deadlines for this new phase of the nuclear security effort. Providing the full funding needed to implement the plan will help fulfill the first recommendation– that nuclear security efforts not be slowed by lack of funds. The administration and Congress should also work together to create a small nuclear security contingency fund at DOE to respond quickly when opportunities present themselves.

5. The Obama administration should increase funding for nuclear security programs in its FY 2016 budget request. As it prepares its FY 2016 budget request, the Obama administration should provide sufficient funding to ensure that no important nuclear security efforts will be slowed by lack of funds, consistent with our first recommendation. That would require a substantially larger request than the one the Obama administration made for FY 2015. The Obama administration should move with all deliberate speed to put together the prioritized strategic plan for nuclear security as described above, and should request sufficient funding to implement it as rapidly as practicable.

For a useful simple table of the proposed budget cuts and their impacts, see the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation’s fact sheet on the topic.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Roth, Nickolas.26 Senators Call for Increasing Nuclear Security Funding.” Nuclear Security Matters, August 19, 2014,